Thursday, 6 December 2012

Guest Author - Mhairi McFarlane

It is my pleasure to introduce 

Photo Courtesy of the author

Author of

You Had Me At Hello
 Avon (6 Dec 2012)

Mhairi has kindly taken the time to tell us all about her life as a writer.

Welcome Mhairi to Jaffareadstoo.

What inspired you to become an author?

I love writing, and it's the only thing I can do to any vague standard of competence. Seriously. I'm omni-useless. But I don't think unless you're frighteningly posh and confident and Oxbridgey that you graduate with an idea you can write fiction for living though. (And even if I had tried to, you probably need a bit of life under your belt and practice before you'd produce anything half-decent anyway.) So I went into local papers instead. I have a theory that feature writing is the most amazing flat-pack starter kit for fiction - you get the main characters and quotes supplied, and the setting, you choose the description, select the best bits of dialogue, add the colour and the mood. (Does all this sound luvvie? I am really worried about sounding luvvie, especially with only one book under my belt.)

Fast forward to me turning 30, working at local paper in Nottingham, fairly sure I didn't want to make the leap to nationals, and being asked to write Bridget Jones' Diary style copy for an advertising supplement. A little light came on somewhere that said: 'Ooh this is a fresh challenge, and a really, really fun one at that.' Not long after, I went on a holiday to New York, and waving a chick lit at my brother in Heathrow I said: 'I could write one of these!' and he said: 'Prove it.' You do need that person to set you the test, I think. Otherwise, it just stays something you say every time people talk 'dream jobs' in the pub.

Where did you get the inspiration for You Had Me At Hello

Various places - I had the best time at Manchester University, so the book's a love letter to those years. Like Rachel, I had a very good male friend from London on my degree course, who made me laugh a lot - the passage about trying to scam out of revising Old English using past papers is taken from real life (I should stress there was no romance in our case though!) I knew I wanted to write a contemporary romance and one morning, thinking about getting in touch with a friend, I thought: 'Imagine how incredibly poignant and vivid a lost love from those years would be, given how poignant and vivid uni memories are anyway.' And it went from there.

By the way, when people ask 'where do you get your ideas from?' top tip: lying in bed when you should be getting up, spending too long in the bath and generally gazing out of rain-spattered windows is highly underrated. Obviously actual productivity needs to kick in at some point...

Do you write stories for yourself, or other people? 

That's a very good question. Both! Is the annoying answer. I write first and foremost to please myself. I try to find a story that makes me laugh, or feel romantic, or sad, create characters I love (or want to boo-hiss.) There's a truism that you have to please yourself first and I heartily agree, it's the only reliable yardstick of quality you really have. If you don't believe in it, why should anyone else? Also, on a practical level, how the hell do you power through 100 thousand words of something you're not in love with? It's interesting - you know how there's sometimes debate about badly-written or dubious novels that are huge hits? There are some bestsellers that might not make the mark as great prose, but I've yet to find the one where the author wasn't writing with enthusiastic conviction and smitten with their story. (No contradictions please! I've warmed to this theory..) Enthusiasm translates. 

But, obviously, it's not as if you can write without an audience in mind. I think the journalist is too hardwired into me, not to do that. I have trusted friends, and my brother, who give me the earliest feedback. If I convince them and make them laugh, I take it as being broadly on the right track.

Do you have a special place to do your writing? 

Hah, only my shamefully messy attic! As well as the necessary desk and Mac, it features a giant bubblegum-pink glass lamp from Ikea, a cartoon from my old paper of me getting kicked up the arse by the Jolly Fisherman in Skegness (long story) and a LOT of junk. I'm so going to have to get a set dressing pot plant and do a frantic tidy up if I ever get in one of those My Study, Where I Produce My Magnificent Art features. It's usually women in Hampstead with French windows opening onto a herb garden, heirloom furniture and solid-silver picture framed pictures of their beautiful family isn't it? *looks balefully at Viz calendar, fluffy cat rolling in the dust* 

Can you share with us your next writing project?

It's another funny romance (or hopefully funny) with Avon which comes out in December 2013. It's about a Greek woman in London who's had the absolute worst time at school, the roly-poly geek bullied to hell, and grown up to be successful and attractive. And then meets one of the old enemies, the school heartthrob (that word sounds very 1955 now doesn't it! What else do you say? Hero of the football field is vaguely American, somehow?) at a reunion. And at first they hate each other, but....shenanigans and lols and heartbreak and catharsis. And a grumpy grey pedigree cat called Luther, inspired by own dim feline, Mr Miffy.

If You Had Me At Hello was a pop culture take on the Persuasion plot, this is Pride & Prejudice. Not that I'm comparing myself to Jane Austen directly, as obviously I'd come off pretty badly.

And finally for fun..

What books are on your bedside table?

Ooh bloody hells *rifles around to check* David Simon's Homicide! Hah, how un chick lit! I read it ages ago but loved it and need to post it back to my dad. More appropriately for my genre: JoJo Moyes 'Me Before You', as I follow her on Twitter and heard her books are great, only just started it. Lisa Jewell 'After The Party' which a friend lent me, I love Lisa Jewell (my favourite: 'Vince & Joy'). And the proof copy of my book. It's possible when I first got the proof copies in, I took one to the pub with me, because I couldn't stop gazing at it, as if it was my newborn. DID I SERIOUSLY ADMIT TO THAT? It seems I did.

Thank you and good night.

Mhairi - thanks so much for spending time with us - it's been great fun !

We wish you continued success in your writing career.

You Had Me At Hello is now available in paperback
and also as an eBook

Enter this giveaway to win a paperback copy of You Had Me At Hello (UK only) - Closes 7th December 2012

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